Future engineers encouraged to embrace transformational changes

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On August 31, 2009

Missouri University of Science and Technology has been awarded $149,838 by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help future engineers navigate business climates that are undergoing transformational changes.

The official title of the Missouri S&T project funded by the NSF is “Collaborative Research: Sustainability in Supply Chain Management and Facility Logistics Curriculum.” Dr. Suzanna Long, assistant professor of engineering management at S&T, is the principal investigator.

According to Long, the goal is to give students a comfort zone and the ability to handle rapidly changing situations. “The NSF is concerned about the loss of competitive advantage,” she says. “They want to address the skills that engineers aren’t getting.”

Long cites the automotive industry as an example of how transformational changes can impact engineers and the general public.

“A change from gas-powered vehicles to electric cars, for instance, means the engineering has to totally change,” Long says. “The mechanic at the shop has to change. The public mindset has to change.”

A key part of these transformations, according to Long, is embracing sustainability issues and global ideas.

Long teaches a class on business logistics at Missouri S&T. Thanks to the NSF award, she is able to put her students in teams with students from other universities and other countries. “They work together in virtual supply chains,” Long says.

Last year, Andrew Ronchetto was one of the S&T students in the class. Ronchetto chose to work on a research project involving alternative transportation fuels. He was placed in a group with five S&T students, two students from Missouri Southern State University and three from Universite de Savoie-Chambery in France.

Early on, the group ran into problems. A spam filter at the French university was blocking transmissions and there was an eight-hour time zone difference between Missouri and France, making conference calls difficult. Of course, the group also had to work out a way to deal with languages difficulties.

“The project gave me a flavor of what it is like to be on an international team in a safe environment,” says Ronchetto, who graduated with a degree in engineering management last year and is now a business transformation consultant at IBM in Houston. “I wish more of my class projects in college had an international component.”

This year, Long’s students will collaborate with students from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, Universidad Publica de Navarra in Spain, and Colorado State University-Pueblo.

“We need to take new approaches to learning,” Long says. “Organizations in the real world are not bound by walls.”

The students in Long’s business logistics classes produce detailed reports with measurable outcomes and recommendations. Teams also give oral presentations about their findings.

Some of the information Long gathers from the student groups is incorporated in her academic research on supply chains and sustainability issues. Long’s research partners at Missouri S&T include Dr. Abhijit Gosavi, assistant professor of engineering management, and Dr. Scott Grasman, associate professor of engineering management.

The funding for the collaborative curriculum in business logistics at S&T is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which involves support from partners like NSF.

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